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Kentucky tornadoes could bring increased risk, new opportunities for domestic violence survivors

Gilbertsville is one of the towns in western Kentucky that faced major destruction following the tornado outbreak.
Ryland Barton
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Gilbertsville is one of the towns in western Kentucky that faced major destruction following the tornado outbreak.

As Kentucky residents continue cleanup and recovery after the recent historic deadly tornadoes, advocates for people who are experiencing domestic violence say that population may be at special risk. 

But the situation can also afford more opportunities to seek help, said Mary Foley, executive director at Merryman House Domestic Violence Crisis Center. Her organization serves eight Kentucky counties with support resources including an emergency shelter. 

Foley said the destruction brought by the storms can mean added stress or power shifts in a family, which can lead to an increased risk of violence. It can also be harder to reach out for help if communications are down, and a person who has escaped an abuser can be forced back into an unsafe situation if they have lost a home or job.

But there could also be reprieve for those whose abusive relationships have until now lay hidden beneath the surface, for example if they’re staying with extended family or friends after the storm. 

“If they don’t have power and they don’t have water, they may then leave that home environment to be around other people that they otherwise maybe wouldn’t have access to,” Foley said. “And so now we’ve got other eyes in the situation or other ears listening.”

She said there could also be chances for survivors of domestic violence to speak to aid workers they come in contact with, like those with FEMA, the American Red Cross or volunteers helping out nearby. 

Survivors can also chat with advocates via Facebook or Instagram. 

“The first step is to reach out,” Foley said. “I would encourage and urge any victim of domestic violence to take this opportunity to rebuild their lives in more than one way.”

She also said those helping out should keep an eye out for possible signs of abuse, and not assume that a person’s injuries are related to the storms.

Merryman House helps around 1,000 people a year with services, and around 350 come through the 36-bed emergency shelter in McCracken County. As of late last week, Foley and her staff had been able to reach most of those they currently work with directly, but she knows it will only be after the dust settles from the storm that they’ll get a clearer picture on how great the need may be. 

Tori Henninger, executive director of the Barren River Area Safe Space, which serves 10 southern Kentucky counties, said in a statement that she and her staff had not yet been able to contact all of their clients, as of last week. 

“We’re trying to go door to door to lay eyes on them and make sure they’re OK,” Henninger said in the statement. 

The Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence recently started a fundraiser to help with the immediate needs of domestic violence survivors in the storm-ravaged areas, as well as the advocates who support them. 

The Kentucky Domestic Violence Victims’ Emergency Fund will provide necessities such as emergency housing, food, water, transportation and other basic needs. 

To donate, visit www.kcadv.org.

How to find help

  • Those in need of support can also call the Merryman House 24-hour crisis line at 270-443-6001, visit www.merrymanhouse.org or chat with them through social media. Remember that online activities can be monitored by an abuser. Merryman House’s coverage area includes Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Marshall, and McCracken counties.

  • To reach the Barren River Area Safe Space (BRASS) call the emergency hotline at 1-800-928-1183 or 270-843-1183 or visit www.brassinc.org. BRASS’s coverage area includes Allen, Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Logan, Metcalfe, Monroe, Simpson and Warren counties.

  • To contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit https://www.thehotline.org/.

  • An interactive tool for planning a safe escape can be found at www.LoveisRespect.org.
Aprile is WFPL's health reporter. Rickert comes to WFPL from the News and Tribune in Southern Indiana, where she covered crime and courts as a senior reporter. A New Albany native, she spent nearly two decades in Louisville before recently moving back across the river to Jeffersonville.
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